Parliament today paid warm tribute to the life and achievements of former governor-general Sir Paul Reeves.

Sir Paul, New Zealand's first Maori governor-general and an Anglican priest, died in Auckland on Sunday morning, aged 78.

Speaking in Parliament today, Prime Minister John Key said Sir Paul was one of New Zealand's greatest statesmen and his death was of great sadness.

"Sir Paul's life was a life spent giving. His contribution to this country was simply enormous and New Zealand is a poorer place for his passing.''

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Labour leader Phil Goff said Sir Paul was "a man of decency and of strength of character'' who had enormous compassion and an unwavering commitment to social justice.

"With Sir Paul's passing we have lost a very special New Zealander -- a man who gave so much to his community, a man that we'll remember as being true to his principles.''

Green Party MP Kennedy Graham said Sir Paul had the gift of effortless leadership.

"He was humble yet dignified in style, he was genuine and authentic in person, he was fearless in expressing belief. He was truly a man of integrity,'' Mr Graham said.

"He united us all through simply being himself - the symbol of a nation as a whole.''

Acting Pacific Affairs Minister Tariana Turia said Sir Paul was not only governor-general, but a Polynesian and a man of God.

"The mana which that gave him in the Pacific was huge,'' she said.

Maori Party colleague Te Ururoa Flavell said Sir Paul bound people together and was an example of humility and tranquillity.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said Sir Paul had courage and dignity, but also a fearsome sense of humour and an extraordinary laugh which showed he had a warm and personal side as well.

"He never took on airs and graces, he never succumbed to that great Kiwi disease of being up himself - he was a simple man who was confident in his views, confident in his abilities, and sought to do his best for his fellow New Zealanders.''

Progressive leader Jim Anderton praised Sir Paul's dedication to social justice, while ACT MP John Boscawen said Sir Paul's life of service, dedication and compassion held lessons for everyone.

Sir Paul's state funeral will be held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland on Thursday.

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, today confirmed he will travel to New Zealand to attend.

- NZPA